Sony NEX: Are you kidding me?

Today I had a chance (while killing time at a local electronics superstore) to handle a Sony Alpha NEX camera—the camera with an ultra-compact body that contains a big APS-C sensor. That big sensor is the same size as the sensor in my Pentax DSLRs and as most of the other DSLRs in use by amateurs and even most pros. The NEX-5 that I handled had the 18-55mm lens.

The NEX cameras have even gotten a couple of pretty good reviews and Sony clearly thinks it has a winning product here, so much so that the rumors are flying now that Sony will abandon its commitment to the really big-sensor full frame cameras in favor of the NEX. That’s right, the rumors suggest Sony will push the NEX and drop the Alpha 850—that is, the camera that Michael Johnston, proprietor of the respected blog The Online Photographer, picked as Camera of the Year for 2009.

But after handling the NEX-5 for a couple of minutes, my reaction was, Are you kidding me?

The word that leaps to my mind to describe the NEX-5 is grotesqueFreakish also seems appropriate. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the camera looks like a midget porn-star. I’ve seen other photos of the NEX cameras with a pancake prime mounted, which diminishes the effect somewhat. But with that zoom lens mounted, well, it’s handles like you’re shooting with the lens all by itself. I know Sony’s engineers really knocked themselves out to make it so small, but the camera body feels like an afterthought.

Now, I’ll admit. I like big cameras. I have big hands, and I like having a firm grip on my camera. I have been worried that Pentax’s recent DSLRs may have gotten too small for me to handle them comfortably. Well, I also got to put my hands on a Pentax K-7 for the first time, and it fit very comfortably into my hand. The body is indeed smaller than the body of my K20D, but the right-side grip extends further and makes the camera easier to grasp. With a battery grip attached, I’m sure the K-7 would feel just fine.

The micro-4/3 cameras made by Olympus and Panasonic, have smaller bodies containing smaller (and somewhat noisier) sensors, but that smaller sensor also makes possible smaller and lighter lenses, including zooms. But if you put an APS-C sensor in a camera and remove the mirror, you may shrink the body—but you can’t shrink the lenses. And that’s the problem with the NEX concept. I can’t see why anybody would want one. Well, I can’t see why anybody would want one with the 18-55 zoom lens. It would be easier to handle with the 16mm f/2.8 pancake wide-angle lens. But my Panasonic LX3 has the same field of view and is a full stop faster (f/2.0)—and is smaller to boot.

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